KAUFMAN COUNTY (CBSDFW.COM) – After the weekend murder of District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, law enforcement presence at the Kaufman County Courthouse and other North Texas offices has been beefed up.
Leaders in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office held a lunch hour press conference and said definitive safety measures are now being taken. Dallas County First Assistant Heath Harris explained that several decisions were made after a call with the DAs office, Dallas County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins and Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. “Our Commissioner’s Court in general has expressed their support in making sure that not only Mr. Watkins is safe, but that the prosecutors in this office are safe. There will be changes here in the courthouse, not only as far as the courthouse itself but as far as where our people park.”
District Attorney Craig Watkins now has a security detail, but Harris said there have always been provisions for protecting the Dallas leader. “With Mr. Watkins being the first black district attorney in the state of Texas he’s always received threats. We’re taking it very seriously and the events that took place in Kaufman County again it gives us pause and makes us kind of reevaluate what we’re doing here in Dallas County.”
Of the increased threat since the murders in Kaufman County Harris said, “We knew what we were getting into when we decided to be prosecutors.” Harris also explained that several district attorney’s in Dallas County have concealed handgun licenses and that if those individuals are more comfortable carrying a weapon they should do so.
Officials with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office said “we do not make public our security measures.” Collin County officials issued a statement that aid, in part, “Our courthouse security plan is always subject to review and revision, but we do not discuss details of that plan for obvious reasons – and as a matter of policy.” But Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson said he has accepted an offer from the Houston Sheriff’s Department for 24-hour security for him and his family.
In Austin, Governor Rick Perry suggested that everyone — but especially public officials — be extra cautious after the weekend killings. Asked Monday if public officials should fear for their safety, Perry said: “I would suggest everyone should be careful about what goes on whether they’re public officials or otherwise.”Perry added that he believes there is “a clear concern to individuals who are in public life, particularly those who deal with some very mean and vicious individuals” including white supremacy groups and drug gangs.
The McLellands were found late Saturday afternoon in their home, near Forney, in an unincorporated part of Kaufman County. The couple had been shot to death. The slayings came months after assistant prosecutor Mark Hasse was shot dead in the same county. “We obviously have some folks that are out to do harm to elected officials,” Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood said during a morning news conference.
Judge Wood spoke about the horrors of the past few days and obvious concerns about yet another North Texas civil servant murder. “All of you are aware of the fact that Mark Hasse our assistant District Attorney was ambushed and murdered less than 100 feet across this way behind us in the parking lot on January 31st,” he said. “Then of course this weekend we had the tragic deaths of Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia.”
The McLelland murders happened almost two months to the day after Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was shot and killed as he walked from a parking lot to the courthouse. No one has been arrested in that case.
Of the separate incidents Judge Wood said, “I’m not a professional law enforcement person, but it would seem to me that this is not just a random act. It would seem to me that there has to be some connection,” he said.
Judge went on to stress that, “I do know, based on what I’ve been told, that they have found no physical evidence that links the murders of Mr. and Mrs. McLelland with the murder of Mark Hasse. “That may not mean anything, but it’s my understanding they’ve found no evidence that links the two. But this has to be more than a coincidence I would think.”
Regardless of the past days events, The Kaufman County Courthouse is open for business today. “It’s not just a typical day at work. I would be less than honest if I tried to indicate that was the case,” Judge Wood said. “The district attorney’s office is closed to the public today, but there is staff there and we will be meeting with them later on this morning.”
The short-term goal for county officials is to determine how offices will operate. “One of the priority concerns we have, that we’ll be dealing with, is contacting the governor’s office. Under state law Governor Perry will appoint a DA to serve out the term of DA McLelland,” Judge Wood explained. “We feel like it is very important that we have a new DA in place as soon as possible. We will be asking the governor to do what he can to expedite that.”
Wood said there are concerns not only for employees that will be at county offices, but also for the public citizens conducting business at those locations. “I have great confidence that we’re being protected in our courthouse today.”
As for the McLelland murders Judge Wood said he would not and could not comment on details of the investigation. But as a community he said, “We’re still in shock, I guess is the best way to describe our feelings about this latest incident. I’ve searched all weekend to think of the right word to describe [it] and I can’t come up with a single word.”
Wood said he was at home Saturday night when Sheriff David Byrnes called and told him about the deaths. Although he said he did not want to interfere with the investigation, the judge said he got dressed and went to the crime scene.
Thinking of their interactions professionally and personally, Judge Wood recalled, “I’d had conversations with Mr. McLelland last week and as you know he was a very outgoing person, a person that pretty well when he spoke he told you what was on his heart, what was on his mind. But he also was a very intelligent person, had great wit, remarkable sense of humor, but he took his job very seriously.”
Now the murder of three people, two of them elected officials, has left an entire community worried and wondering. “I would be less than honest if I told you that I was not worried. I don’t walk around in fear everyday, of course I have this gentleman that’s with me today. But on the other hand two months ago we wouldn’t even be having this conversation,” Wood said.
The CBS 11 News I-Team confirmed on Sunday that DA McLelland, 63, recently had the sheriff’s deputy guarding his home, after the Hasse murder, removed. McLelland reportedly thought he didn’t need the protection and didn’t want to waste taxpayer dollars.
Now in addition to working the murder of Mark Hasse, officials with the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Rangers, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, and ATF are investigating the McLelland murders.
When asked if he had anything to say to the person or persons responsible for these latest deaths Judge Wood said, “I hope they stop. I hope they take… they’re dealing with real people, real lives.” Many of those “real people” are back on the job today. “They’re professionals, but we also recognize and remember that office has been through some pretty bad events over the last 60 days or so,” the judge said. “They’re professionals, but they’re humans as well.
Mike McLelland was elected as Kaufman County District Attorney back in 2010. Cynthia McLelland, 65, was a psychiatric nurse at the Terrell State Hospital.
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